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Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life

Product no.: 978-0143109396
Surfing only looks like a sport. To initiates, it is something else entirely: a beautiful addiction, a demanding course of study, a morally dangerous pastime, a way of life.

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Publisher's Synopsis
Finnegan shares stories of life in a whites-only gang in a tough school in Honolulu even while his closest friend was a Hawaiian surfer. He shows us a world turned upside down for kids and adults alike by the social upheavals of the 1960s. He details the intricacies of famous waves and his own apprenticeships to them. Youthful folly—he drops LSD while riding huge Honolua Bay, on Maui—is served up with rueful humor. He and a buddy, their knapsacks crammed with reef charts, bushwhack through Polynesia. They discover, while camping on an uninhabited island in Fiji, one of the world’s greatest waves.

As Finnegan’s travels take him ever farther afield, he becomes an improbable anthropologist: unpicking the picturesque simplicity of a Samoan fishing village, dissecting the sexual politics of Tongan interactions with Americans and Japanese, navigating the Indonesian black market while nearly succumbing to malaria. Throughout, he surfs, carrying readers with him on rides of harrowing, unprecedented lucidity.

Reviews
"In the summer of 1992, there ­appeared in The New Yorker a long, two-part article by William Finnegan titled Playing Doc’s Games that was instantly recognized as a masterpiece. A wise, ­richly atmospheric account of riding the gelid, powerful gray waves of San Francisco while negotiating the demands of a fanatical surfer-oncologist named Doc Renneker, Playing Doc’s Games ­combines the deep knowledge of a widely traveled hard-core surfer, the observations of a born ethnographer and the wry aplomb of a New Yorker staff writer.

The theme is Finnegan’s growing ambivalence about surfing, his conviction, set off against the foil of Renneker’s unwavering zeal, that he has given more than enough lifeblood to this sport or 'path' or whatever it is. For Finnegan, a great deal of whose identity is bound up with surfing, this ambivalence amounts to a personal crisis; but it is also the crucial literary prerequisite, providing the critical distance that allows Finnegan to see surfing with unparalleled clarity.

Playing Doc’s Games frequently ­alludes to other chapters in Finnegan’s storied surf life — Hawaii, the South Pacific, Indonesia — but in the nearly 25 years since its publication, there have been only rumors of the memoir that seemed an inevitable outgrowth of the article. With Barbarian Days, we finally have that extraordinary book in full, including, largely unchanged, Playing Doc’s Games. It is in many ways, and for the first time, a surfer in full. And it is cause for throwing your wet-suit hoods in the air."    ~New York Times

"An evocative, profound and deeply moving memoir…The proof is in the sentences. Were I given unlimited space to review this book, I would simply reproduce it here, with a quotation mark at the beginning and another at the end. While surfers have a reputation for being inarticulate, there is actually a fair amount of overlap between what makes a good surfer and a good writer. A smooth style, an ability to stay close to the source of the energy, humility before the task, and, once you’re done, not claiming your ride. In other words, making something exceedingly difficult look easy. The gift for writing a clean line is rare, and the gift for riding one even rarer. Finnegan possesses both."    ~San Francisco Chronicle  

"Gorgeously written and intensely felt…With Mr. Finnegan’s bravura memoir, the surfing bookshelf is dramatically enriched. It’s not only a volume for followers of the sport. Non-surfers, too, will be treated to a travelogue head-scratchingly rich in obscure, sharply observed destinations…Dare I say that we all need Mr. Finnegan…as a role model for a life fully, thrillingly, lived."    ~Wall Street Journal

"Fearless and full of grace."      ~Outside Magazine

"A hefty masterpiece."      ~Geoff Dyer, The Guardian

Excerpt
"On the afternoon of our arrival, during my first, frantic survey of the local waters, I found the surf setup confusing. Waves broke here and there along the outer edge of a mossy, exposed reef. I was worried by all the coral. It was infamously sharp. Then I spotted, well off to the west, and rather far out at sea, a familiar minuet of stick figures, rising and falling, backlit by the afternoon sun. Surfers! I ran back up the lane. Everyone at the house was busy unpacking and fighting over beds. I threw on a pair of trunks, grabbed my board, and left without a word.

I paddled west along a shallow lagoon, staying close to the shore, for half a mile. The beach houses ended, and the steep, brushy base of Diamond Head itself took their place across the sand. Then the reef on my left fell away, revealing a wide channel—deeper water, where no waves broke—and beyond the channel ten or twelve surfers riding a scatter of dark, chest-high peaks in a moderate onshore wind. I paddled slowly toward the lineup—the wave-catching zone—taking a roundabout route, studying every ride. The surfers were good. They all had smooth, ungimmicky styles. Nobody fell off. And nobody, blessedly, seemed to notice me.

I circled around, then edged into an unpopulated stretch of the lineup. There were plenty of waves. The takeoffs were crumbling but easy. Letting muscle memory take over, I caught and rode a couple of small, mushy rights. The waves were different—but not too different—from the waves I knew in California. hey were shifty but not intimidating. I could see coral on the bottom, but except for a couple of heads poking up far inside (near shore), nothing too shallow.

There was a lot of talk and laughter among the other surfers. Eavesdropping, I couldn't understand a word. They were probably speaking pidgin. I had read about pidgin in James Michener's Hawaii but, with my debut at Kaimuki Intermediate still a day away, hadn't actually heard any yet. Or maybe it was some foreign language. I was the only haole (another word from Michener) in the water. At one point, an older guy paddling past me gestured seaward and said, 'Outside.' It was the only word spoken to me that day. And he was right: an outside set was approaching, the biggest of the afternoon, and I was grateful to have been warned.

As the sun dropped, the crowd thinned. I tried to see where people went. Most seemed to take a steep path up the mountainside to Diamond Head Road, their pale boards, carried on their heads, moving steadily, skeg-first, through the switchbacks. I caught a final wave, rode it into the shallows, and began the long paddle home through the lagoon. Lights were on in the houses now. The air was cooler, the shadows blue-black under the coconut palms along the shore. I was aglow with my good fortune. I just wished I had someone to tell: I'm in Hawaii, surfing in Hawaii. Then it occurred to me that I didn't even know the name of the place I'd surfed. It was called Cliffs.

It was a patchwork arc of reefs that ran south and west for half a mile from the channel where I first paddled out. To learn any new spot in surfing, you first bring to bear your knowledge of other breaks—all the other waves you've learned to read closely. But at that stage my complete archives consisted of ten or fifteen California spots, and only one I really knew well: a cobblestone point in Ventura. And none of this experience prepared me especially well for Cliffs, which, after that initial session, I tried to surf twice a day."

Biography
William Finnegan is the author of Cold New World, A Complicated War, Dateline Soweto, and Crossing the Line. He has twice been a National Magazine Award finalist and has won numerous journalism awards, including two Overseas Press Club awards since 2009. A staff writer at The New Yorker since 1987, he lives in Manhattan. His most recent book is Barbarian Days, "A finely crafted memoir of a youthful obsession that has propelled the author through a distinguished writing career."     ~The 2016 Pulitzer Prize Winner in Biography or Autobiography

Author Finnegan, William
Book Type Trade Paperback
Page Count 464 pp.
Publisher Penguin Publishing Group 2016
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